The Maryland Terrapins ventured into the Smith Center on Saturday afternoon a team very similar to the Heels -- an up and down inexperienced group. But beating NC State earlier in the week evened the Terps ACC record at 2-2 coming into a seemingly winnable game against a Tar Heel team struggling to string together solid performances.
“I thought we were going to play great,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said postgame. “But you have to give them credit, they were so good out of the chute and we didn’t respond to it. It kind of steamrolled.”
That steamroller -- which built a 42-20 halftime lead and hung on in the second half - was led by Tar Heel junior Reggie Bullock and sophomore James Michael McAdoo, as both players powered Carolina to a 62-52 win. Bullock (24) and McAdoo (19) will get the accolades here and everywhere else when this game is broken down, but the overall “sense of urgency” that Carolina showed for the second straight game is the one thing that this team must grasp hold of and keep playing with from here to March.
“We see how good we can be as a team and if we can do it against a team like UNLV, we should be able to do it against all teams in our conference,” Bullock said when asked of when this team started to find its way. “Just play with that same sense of urgency and if we play like we did against UNLV and Florida State and (in the first half today), we are one of the best teams in the country.”
“This is Carolina and we expect to win,” point guard Marcus Paige said following the win when asked about the team's slow ACC start. “But at the same time, this team hasn’t been through the rigors of ACC play where stuff like that is going to happen. We have to learn from it and I feel like we have.”
McAdoo added, “I guess guys are really buying in. We were 0-2. We had to come out and win today. I think it was focusing on things we were doing wrong and how they were preventing us from winning and stepping up and not making those same mistakes.”
From the sound of it, Carolina appears to be figuring this 40-minute thing out. Back to back ACC wins against tough physical teams - the type of opponent that traditionally has caused problems even with the most talented Tar Heels teams. The players are buying in, but beating FSU and Maryland are baby steps -- wins that help the bottom line, but also offer examples of where this team can go.
“Florida State, we had more of a sense of urgency and took better care of the basketball and we never got selfish,” Roy Williams said of Carolina’s play. “Today I think the first half was really, really pretty and the second half was really, really ugly.”
Sounds simple enough. The FSU win was more complete, but the 62-52 win over Maryland may finally be the sticking point Williams and his staff need to get through the craniums of the entire Carolina roster. Bullock and McAdoo did enough in the first half to secure the win in the end, but looking pretty for a half won’t get you much in this league.
“When you are younger, you see a 22-point lead and you think everything is going to be rosey,” Williams said. “But this is the ACC and no one in this league is going to stop.”
For the Heels, it’s on to Georgia Tech as the Jackets visit the Smith Center Wednesday night in another ACC game -- as they all are - requiring urgency from a team trying to find its way.